I started as a sports development officer (SDO) in a local authority in Leicestershire – I was the authority’s first SDO so they didn’t really know what to do with me – so shoved me into the planning department!
After leaving Leicester I went to become regional manager at the National Coaching Foundation – now called Sports Coach UK. I worked my way through the ranks over 10 years there. The highlight was leading a national programme with DCMS to put coach development officers into every county in England. It was while at Sports Coach UK, in 2008, that I got a call from a “head hunter”, found myself speaking to Kelly Holmes and joined the trust as sport director. I’ve been here since we launched and became CEO last year.
The launch of the trust was somewhat interesting?
The day we launched, in 2008, was the day the banks crashed – quite literally. At the time our offices were hosted by a large financial company in the middle of the City of London and as we were setting up, people around us were clearing their desks and going home with their belongings in boxes.
It had a massive impact on us too. We had a business plan where corporate giving played a major part, so it became unbelievably tough to start up and keep things moving forward. Kelly was so passionate about it, however, that she put her own funding in to begin with. We weathered the storm and here we are – still going strong.
What does the trust do?
Kelly had the vision that no fellow athlete should feel lost when they reached the end of their career and she didn’t want athletes to be wasted to society. She wanted to combine that with helping young people facing disadvantage – another area she has personal experience of.
We began building systems around the athletes to improve their welfare and wellbeing, with the aim of eventually enabling them to give back to young people facing disadvantage.
How the cycle works is that we start with the athletes. We have athletes come (or be referred) to us, we then assess them – as they could be at a point where they have no money or a place to live. We then help them realise they’ve got all these amazing attitudes which helped them in sport and that can work for them in life.
When they’re ready and have gone through our rigorous assessments, we deploy them to work in our young people programmes, so they can unlock these attitudes in them. As a result our athletes become amazing vehicles for change in others.
We’ve been working really closely with UK Sport and since 2008 we’ve helped more than 400 athletes through our system. We currently have about 250 athletes receiving support through their transition and training. Around half of those are deployed in projects at the moment.
Why do you think you are so successful in what you do?
Our research shows the athletes who work with young people find it easier to adapt to their new life.
When we launched, I interviewed a lot of athletes who’d come to the end of their active career. Pretty much all said they felt as if they’d had all their friends taken away from them – their coaches, physios, trainers. Therefore, everything we structure around the athletes is done using a sense of community.